Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Find Your Niche...Build Your Brand

How many of you have seen the show "Shark Tank"? It's a show about hopeful entrepreneurs who stand before a team of "sharks" (incredibly wealthy and successful businessmen) and pitch their business ideas, asking the sharks for backing for a stake in their company. Some of the businesses are incredible, and others are hilariously bad. One of the sharks, Daymond John, is the president and CEO of FUBU, a very successful clothing line that has caused him to be recognized as one of the country's greatest entrepreneurs. I'm reading his book right now, "The Brand Within," and I came across a particular passage that struck me as very significant. I believe it is highly beneficial to any entrepreneur trying to "make it" with whatever he or she is selling, whether it is goods or services, and that a basic understanding of these principles can provide clarity and direction for where you want to take your business. Let's dive in and take a look at the four steps he outlines.

1. The Item
No matter what type of entrepreneur you are, you will always have an item. As a musician, my item is a piano lesson, a piano concert, a CD, a DVD, an accompanying gig...you name it. Some of the things I'm selling are physical items, like the CDs, but most of all, I'm selling my time and knowledge. My dad is a stonemason. He's ultimately selling a beautiful rock wall, fireplace, stone on a home, mailbox, or other product associated with masonry. However, he's ultimately selling his time and expertise, and some physical stuff comes with it. I believe that in our society today, as technology advances, information has become the greatest item of all. I recently bought a Kindle from Amazon, one of those nifty little e-readers (as I feel like I'm going blind from reading all of my books on my phone....between the microscopic text and the blaring backlight, everything I look at is gradually getting fuzzier), and as I've entered this whole new "Kindle World," I'm amazed at just how in-demand information is in the form of books. Even specialized and rare books are now available in a "Kindle Edition." Amazon reports that there are over a million books available in their store. I know that pales in comparison to how many books there are in the world, but this e-reader craze that's hit the market has already developed into a bursting-at-the-seams boatload of content that a single human could never hope to consume in a lifetime.

2. The Label
When you buy a basic item - such as a backpack, pair of jeans, laptop case, you name it - and you just want the plain old item, you're not too concerned with the brand you're buying. For instance, I have a laptop case I bought from someone on eBay. I think it was six bucks. The label is marked "skque". Why did I call it a label and not a brand? Maybe I am incorrect to do this, but to me it's a label because it means nothing to me. However, when I set my laptop down on the piano today in University of Michigan practice room 1161, what brand of piano did I set it on? Probably my favorite brand in the world - Steinway and Sons. We'll talk about that shortly. Suffice it to say, a label is simply a name for something, whereas a brand is so much more. (On an extremely nerdy sidenote (yes, this is for you, Mom) - when I was about 9 years old, I got one of those extremely incredible label makers. A girl - yes, a girl - at school had one, and I instantly became jealous, but my blue one was much more manly than her pink one. Oh wait, the store was out of blue, so I had to get purple. I set out labeling things around the house. My mom approached me and told me that I had kind of missed whole point of a label maker. "What do you mean?" "Well," she said, holding up the can opener, "you labeled this CAN OPENER. Did you think we were going to get confused at what it was? When you label stuff, label it with your name.") On this note, when we are selling our time, our name is our label. If I was taking a piano lesson with Vladimir Horowitz, the item would still be a piano lesson, but the label would be a "Vladimir Horowitz" piano lesson. Furthermore, since Horowitz is such a genius, it would extend into the brand category.

3. The Brand
According to Daymond John, when you purchase a particular brand of something, you're making a promise. You're declaring your loyalty to that brand. I have a friend from my mission who makes it a point to not wear particular brands. "Why would I want to advertise for these companies I hate? Even if Abercrombie or American Eagle or H&M has a great T-shirt, if it has their name on it, I don't want it, because they are the epitome of everything I can't stand about consumerism and materialism." What's so special about that three-pronged symbol, wrapped up so elegantly (cough) in a circle? Oh yeah, it's a Mercedes. What's the difference between my used and scratched Honda Civic and the same year's model of a Mercedes? In the world's eyes, everything. In my eyes, very little. What I see when I see both cars is that they'll both probably last around the same amount of years if I'm diligent with the upkeep. However, when I think of owning a Mercedes, I get kind of a sick feeling, not just because of the huge payments, but because if I had to replace parts on that thing, it's probably going to cost me a lot more than a Honda. On the flip side, a lot of people view Honda that way - they buy Fords or GMCs because the parts are cheaper. Every day I drive my car, I'm saying, "Hey world...I drive a Honda." And, unless I put a bumper sticker that says, "I HATE Honda even though I'm driving one," I'm telling the world, "Hey, Hondas are great cars. I drive one, and so should you." Brands develop loyalty in a variety of ways. For me, Steinway and Sons, my favorite brand in the world, has consistently earned my loyalty over the years as the best brand of piano. Why? Because it has consistently produced the most responsive, dynamic, colorful, and warm musical instruments I've played. Have there been some Yamahas that have been better than some Steinways I've played? Certainly. You don't need to look beyond most University's practice rooms, filled with "Steinways", aka black boxes that have been pounded on for 16 hours a day by "musicians," effectively stamping out any brand on the piano (and in some cases, literally...they are so scratched you can't even see "Steinway" anymore). However, Steinway consistently delivers a product that is so superior than that of other brands, in my opinion, that it is no problem for me to declare them as my favorite brand.

4. The Lifestyle
Finally, we see lifestyles that come along with brands. My wife and I are cheapskates at heart, but that doesn't stop us from enjoying going into the most expensive stores and just browsing when we're out of town and have some time to kill. I've had several competitions and performances in New York over the years, and if there's one store that has stuck out in my mind that ties into this whole "lifestyle" thing, it's Tiffany. When you go into their store, it's extremely quiet and clean. Everything is beautifully encased, and when we've gone, it almost seems like there's a "crowd-control" factor. The way they've accomplished this is by having such a large staff that the store actually seems less crowded, since there is always a person available to help you. As you browse the overpriced selection, suddenly it doesn't seem so overpriced anymore. "Wow that's expensive...but hey, it's quality. After all, it's Tiffany!" These words have been uttered by countless women to justify absurd purchases. Is that priceless lock and key necklace for $200 that much better than the $5 one you can pick up on Canal St. in the back alley? It's ultimately just a necklace. "But wait! It's so much more than that!" Really? How? "Well, it says Tiffany on it." Go to an African village, and see if they can tell the difference. Whether we like it or not, brands bring about a lifestyle with it. When you see WalMart's Great Value items stocked in someone's pantry, as opposed to brands you'd buy at Whole Foods, it tells you a little something about that person. I like both stores for different reasons, and I'm not calling anyone bad who drives a Mercedes or Honda, who shops at WalMart or Whole Foods, who eats at McDonald's rather than Ruth's Chris...I'm just drawing awareness, thanks to Daymond John's book, as to how brands greatly affect our life, by creating the false illusion (and in some cases, a reality!) of the lifestyle that comes along with that brand. (On a side note, I believe that this country's staggering amount of debt is a direct result of abuse of these four steps - people trying to live lifestyles that they obviously can't afford and sustain).

As an entrepreneur, what is the item or idea that you are going to sell? Will you simply label it, or will you brand it? Is there a lifestyle associated with your product? If so, how will you turn your item into the ultimate item for that lifestyle? What will set your brand apart from others? Finally, what niche will you fill in your market that is missing today? Special thanks to Daymond John for writing such an amazing, inspiring and entertaining book that reads so easily, but has a wealth of invaluable ideas.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Paganini Etude No.6

I thought I'd share a fun new music video I just released of Franz Liszt's Paganini Etude No.6 with all of my amazing blog readers. Thank you so much for your support! I hope you enjoy it :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about the eternal nature of principles. In a "give-me-everything-for-free!" entitled society, I see more and more brats out there than ever before, as well as more and more incredible individuals that are making a huge difference in the lives of others and in their families. With more opposition in the world than ever before, the divide between the dead-beats and elite individuals is widening. One thing that we're constantly faced with is whether to partake of the principles of worldliness, materialism, and greed. So much of our world is dominated by the "getting ahead" mentality that we'll take any free handout, any shortcut to success, and we'll do anything for that one extra toy or gadget that we have to have.

I'm a nerd who really likes to read finance books. I think it stems back to my childhood and the decision I made when I was ten-years-old that I wanted to be a concert pianist. I made the decision after seeing one of my peers - Ryan Brown of the Five Browns - play with the Utah Symphony. After watching the inspiring performance of this kid - who was WAY old, by the way...I mean, he was twelve and I was only ten! - I knew I wanted to do this whole piano thing forever. In my maturity, I knew that my old dream of being an NBA player probably wouldn't pan out, and the fact that I had been recently been cut from the Gold soccer team to the Silver team was a sure sign that my soccer skills wouldn't work out either (they fizzled out by age 13, after which I took up the physically demanding "sport" of golf). Whenever I told people this, they said, "Good luck being a starving musician." Or, "What's your backup plan?" Or, "What do you want to do...teach?!" followed by a mocking chuckle. Little did they know that those insulting questions were the fuel of motivation. Sure, getting an MBA will almost always have a better financial outcome than an MM in Piano Performance, statistically. But who cared about the statistics? I was going to do everything possible to propel my passion. I dreaded doing anything else as a career, and I was going to do everything in my power to beat the system.

My brothers and I were taught hard work from a young age from our awesome parents. My dad is basically made of steel, and my mom is a 3x cancer survivor. If I didn't get my two-and-a-half hours of practice in per day, I had to make it all up the next day. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I ever had to do five hours of piano practice, because I hated those days so much that I'd gladly turn down offers to go out and play with friends to make sure I finished my practicing. My brothers and I had always gone to work with my dad on our breaks from school and during the summers. One day, when my Dad cut his thumb off in his cement mixer and I watched as they had to sew it back on, I knew there had to be something better out there for me, so I quit. He told me, "If you're not working for me, you're going to start your own business. I don't want you flipping burgers." So, I started teaching piano. Pretty soon, my $10 per half-hour lesson (over TWICE the rate he had paid me, and I got to sit in a nice air-conditioned room playing and teaching music!) business took off and I built up a studio of twenty-five students. I saved every dollar I could so I could pay for my college and hopefully "make it" as a musician one day. The principle of creativity was instilled in me as a result of this situation - a seed had been planted for future success. The socialist/communist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it view of "You didn't build your business...your customers did!" never made sense to me, and it still doesn't. Why couldn't I create something out of nothing, especially when the long, hot days doing stonemasonry was the only option I could go back to?

I've recently reviewed a book I read when I was in my teens called The Millionaire Next Door. To be honest, it's a pretty dry read, and I did a lot of skimming. It's basically a book full of statistics about the behaviors of millionaires. Sure, it makes a lot of them look like penny-pinching cheapskates, but there was one example that really stuck out to me. One of the millionaires in the book was worth over five million, and he lived in the same neighborhood he always had, drove a modest used vehicle, owned his own business in the industrial part of town, and was just a "common man." He was strategic with his wealth, however, and amassed a fortune, even without earning an insanely high income. People noticed the success of his business and would ask him for advice. He ended up saving many different businesses of friends and acquaintances over the years, and several of them wanted to buy him something really nice to thank him. They decided to go all-out and buy him a custom-made Rolls Royce. It wouldn't be ready for nine months, and four months into it he found out what they had planned. Gently, he went to them and told them he couldn't accept such a kind offer. How could he accepts such a gift? He enjoyed simple restaurants with simple folks - how could he pull up in a Rolls Royce to the local diner he'd been going to for years and feel good about it? How could he go to work in that car without his workers feeling like he was exploiting them? Most importantly, how could he take that down to the lake to go fishing? After all, you can't throw dead fish in the back seat of a Rolls like you could in his vehicle!

This man said something extremely simple, "Money should never change one's values." This principle - the principle of integrity - was reinforced to me the other day in a piano lesson. The teacher was talking of various types of students, and how they can be broken down into three categories:
1) Lots of talent, lots of integrity (to work hard and focus)
2) Not a lot of talent, but lots of integrity
3) Lots of talent, no integrity
He reiterated that while it's sad that some simply don't have a lot of natural ability, those who work hard far outdo those who have a lot of natural ability but are lazy.

Yet another lesson I recently learned was from my mom, who is taking a college class in psychology. They recently read a book that had a chapter on honesty and justification, and how all of us "cheat" a little bit. Would you rob a bank? No way! But will you point out the missed charge when the cashier forgets to ring up one of your expensive items? Or will you refill your soda even when it says "No refills"? Why would you do one and not the other? The book brought up an interesting point about how people's situations can make them sway in their conviction of their principles.

All of these things have been circulating in my mind, and as I've thought more about them, I  realize that principles greatly determine what and who we will become. While situations are constantly changing around us, principles are either upheld, or they are shattered. In the book Think and Grow Rich, an amazing book that talks of the richness of life and spirituality (and surprisingly very little about money), Napoleon Hill talks of the principles that govern the lives of some of the most successful individuals in America. These principles are Desire, Faith, Auto-Suggestion, Specialized Knowledge, Imagination, Organized Planning, Persistence, Creating a Master Mind Team, Harnessing the Power of the Subconcious, Utilizing Your Brain, and Outwitting Fear. These principles are eternal. They will exist whether you choose to utilize them, harness them, ignore them, or never bother to think about them. They are free - you don't have to buy these principles. You can choose to incorporate them at any time. You can choose to abandon them at any time. However, I pose to each of you the following questions, "What do you want out of life? What are you striving for? What drives you?" And finally, "What principles do you need to achieve the answers to the aforementioned questions?" Imagine a huge wall of principles looming before you, and you can hand-select whichever ones you want, good or evil. The power of choice lies with you, but with each principle you select, various consequences will follow. Which principles will you personally select, and what will they make you become?

Thursday, October 3, 2013


This morning I was teaching a Skype piano lesson to a really great adult student in North Carolina. We've worked together for around six months. He's making great strides in his playing, and he is an incredibly hard worker, probably averaging around three hours of practice a day. I had a valuable lesson reiterated to me as I was working with him. He started out the lesson by saying, "You know, I've been working hard on my scales, and I can play them at mm.160 (4 notes per click) if I'm lucky, but I feel pretty confident at about mm152." If any of you play or teach piano, you know that this is no small feat. "Mm" is just an abbreviation I use for metronome marking, and each metronome marking indicates beats per minute. Personally, I feel like my scales are maxed out at around mm.184. I can play individual ones faster if needed in a piece, but I really have to work at them. Most students that I teach average anywhere between mm.60-120 for their scales. So, needless to say, he is quite advanced in this respect. He is playing also playing the Chopin Op.18 Waltz in E-flat Major at a really high level, along with Tchaikovsky's "October".

He recently brought the Chopin Etude Op.10 No.3 to one of his lessons. He decided to learn the middle part first, which is much more demanding technically than the first and last parts of the piece. We worked the middle section a lot together, and he improved greatly. However, the opening line of the piece, a slow singing line, seemed to be giving him a lot of trouble. I was a little stumped because he'd played the Tchaikovsky so well. Some students are stronger lyrical players, and some are stronger technically. I've never come across someone who'd played the middle section so well, and other lyrical pieces so well, but struggled with this particular passage. Similarly, I've had students tackle extremely difficult material, only to struggle with material that I've deemed "easy" in my mind.

An example from my own playing is the fact that I feel quite confident playing Scarbo from Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. Now, I know I'm no master, but I've competed with it for several years with some success. It's considered by many to be one of the more difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. I also feel quite comfortable with the last movement of Samuel Barber's Sonata in E-flat Minor, Op.26, a daunting fugue that was originally premiered by Horowitz. However, if you give me Chopin Etude Op.10 No.2, my hand and mind immediately forget that I'm a pianist, fear clutches my whole being, and the piece turns into useless mush. I have such a death grip on the notes that my fingers could probably snap off, and I want to go kill myself when I hear the 10-year old Chinese girls playing it twice as fast as I can on YouTube.

The lesson to be taken from working with this great adult student is that comparison to others is ultimately an empty pursuit. I'm not implying that it's not important to strive to be as good as someone you admire, or that you cannot learn from a great master. What I'm getting at is that depression can quickly set in when we allow ourselves to be defined by others' achievements. It's the whole mentality of "If he or she has more, I have less." This is a shameful and destructive way to think, but we all fall into that trap if we're not careful. The opposite is true as well. If we've achieved a high level of anything, humility is key in order to keep achieving great things. It's so easy to get out of touch, become comfortable, and stagnate. Ultimately, comparison to others is completely meaningless, and almost always debilitating. Rather, setting ideals in your mind, even unprecedented ideals, and striving for these is how we become something, rather than simply achieve something or cross it off of a to-do list. Becoming should be our ultimate goal, for when you've become something, riches are gleaned through your mindset and skill-set that money or materials cannot purchase.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


The man in this photo may very well be the most talented pianist on earth. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I've never met someone who has such jaw-dropping technique that still finds time to express every note with such finesse and sincerity. He has the warmest and most gorgeous tone quality I've ever heard, while still maintaining fiery passion. I've had the pleasure of working with Sergei Babayan in private lessons every few months for the last 4 years, and last week I saw him perform for the first time. What an incredible experience to watch him perform Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto.

All of my amazing teachers - Susan Duehlmeier, Sergei Babayan, and Logan Skelton - have instilled wonderful qualities in me as a musician and person. All have stressed the need to find beauty in every note I play. However, I still find myself falling short in many performances. I miss so many notes, or it's not expressed exactly the way I want it, or my memory lapses...so many things can go wrong. It's frustrated me to a great degree. However, I realize a great flaw that may have been causing this for all these years - distraction.

A few weeks ago, I had a life-changing lesson with my teacher here at the University of Michigan, Logan Skelton. He asked, "Do you have any interest in starting to do competitions again?" I told him that I did. I have been postponing applications for competitions while I've been learning new repertoire, but I feel like my skill is slipping, and competitions really keep me on top of my game. To give you a precursor, last year may have been the craziest two semesters of my life - I learned Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1, Schubert A minor sonata, relearned a bunch of classical selections for my new CD My Favorite Things, arranged the remaining selections on the CD, flew home during Christmas and Spring breaks to record the CD, then performed about 20 concerts over the summer, in addition to teaching about 20 private students on Skype every week...and hanging out with my really hot wife.

He was blatantly honest with me. I told him that even though I would like to do some big competitions, I wasn't sure I could place in any of them, but that I'd do them anyway, for the experience. He told me, "You know, Josh, I don't think you can really make that call. I have total confidence that you could reach a really, really high level of playing. You already play so many things extremely well, but I have confidence that you could play anything you want at any level, and be very successful in competitions. Of course, every competition is subjective, but if you do enough of them and are dedicated enough, I don't think there's a whole lot you couldn't do. Last year, I saw you barely hanging on...you are a busy guy. You recorded that album, you're in school with a full load of courses, and you teach a ton of students. You're successful, but I notice that you are giving last priority to your playing." The words were incredibly kind, but they stung like crazy, as they affirmed what I already knew I needed to fix. I had put the single most important thing in my career on the back-burner, placing the thing of most value in last place, letting other good things take a place ahead of them. Of course, none of the other things - teaching, recording, studying - were bad things, but those are the very things that are meant to shape the ultimate goal of becoming the greatest pianist I can become.

I walked out of that lesson with a renewed determination. My practicing has been significantly better and more focused since then, and any time I hear someone who is better than me, I think to myself, "They may be able to outplay me, but they'll never be able to outwork me. One day, I'll be that good." Now, I don't know if I'll ever be as good as Babayan, or my favorite young pianist Daniil Trifonov, but I do know that by holding them as the ideal, even if I fall short, I will have come significantly further than if I had simply just aimed for mediocrity.

Two weeks passed, and I went to another lesson. I now had a large plate of repertoire that I needed to devour, and it was intimidating me. I had learned the first movement of Rachmaninoff Concerto No.2 in a week - it wasn't even close to perfect. I'd also started bringing back some repertoire for a big international competition audition tape. And I had learned the Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableau Op.39 No.1 in tempo. But, I still had Beethoven Waldstein Sonata, Carl Vine Sonata, a Volodos transcription, and a Chopin Nocturne looming ahead. I don't think I've ever attempted this much repertoire at once. I asked him, "How in the world can I balance all of this stuff? Do I just need to man up and do it? How would you go about it?" He gave me some detailed and sound advice, closing off with a laugh, "Yeah...basically you just need to man up."

When I was sixteen, I was preparing for the National Chopin Competition. It was a Thursday, probably 6 months before the competition. My teacher, Susan Duehlmeier, passed me in the hall after a concert. She said, "You know, I was thinking, can you relearn the first movement of your Chopin Sonata in B Minor for your lesson on Tuesday?" I was a little freaked out, but thought, "Yeah, I can do that." I told her I'd do it. We talked for a bit, and she said, "Oh yeah, and have the whole thing memorized." Seventeen pages, relearned and memorized in 4 days?! I'm a slow memorizer. I responded, "Susan, I really don't feel like I can do that. That's a lot, and you know I'm a slow memorizer." She smiled and said, "You can do it. I wouldn't ask you if I knew you couldn't do it." Tuesday came, and I managed to get through the whole first movement memorized. I couldn't believe what I'd done...how did I do that?

What I've realized from these three incredible individuals is that noble thinking allows one to transcend any limitations one has previously established as their "talent level." So many times in the past, I've thought, "I'm not talented enough to play something like that, to learn it that quickly, or to perform it that perfectly." When I do this, I place limitations on my potential, and my thinking becomes far less than noble. Also, filling up my days with endless amounts of teaching, studying, or other activities that ultimately rob me of the most noble goal of all is a sure way to lose potential to an even greater degree. Everyone needs balance, and any one thing in excess can put a damper on your happiness. However, I think the greatest damper is not discerning the difference between good, better, and best. When we put the best things first, our talent can blossom, which enhances and enriches those things that are only "good" and "better". Ultimately, talent is just the sum total of noble thought coupled with the amount of work you have put forth. So long as your thoughts remain noble and your mind remains open, your talent is in a perfect environment to grow. Then, all it needs is work. How much your talent grows depends on how much work you put into it. It can grow to astronomical heights, as is evidenced in the playing of Babayan, a man who has dedicated his life to his art while still maintaining balance as a wonderful person, teacher, husband, and mentor. How large will you allow your talent to grow?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August Giveaway Winner - Rebecca Loveless!

Congratulations to Rebecca Loveless for being the winner of last month's giveaway! Thank you to all those who entered. I will post September's giveaway soon :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August Young Artist Feature - Umi Garrett

Last month at the Amalfi Coast Music Festival, I had the privilege of meeting many wonderful young musicians. I featured Elliot Wuu last month on this blog, and this month features another amazing young pianist - Umi Garrett. Umi was internationally recognized when she was only eight-years-old when she appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show. Here is the video clip of her appearance:

I had the opportunity to do a short interview with this piano prodigy. She is not only a wonderful musician, but a lovely person.

How long have you been playing piano?
I've been playing for eight years. I started when I was four years old.

How much did you practice then, and how much do you practice now?
I can't remember too well, but I probably did about one hour per day. Now I practice between three to six hours per day depending on where I'm at and what I'm doing.

Do you go to public or private school, or are you home-schooled?
I've actually done all of them! This year I've been home-schooled, which is nice because you get a lot done!

Who have your piano teachers been? How long did you study with each of them?
I studied with my pre-school teacher for about two years. Then I moved to two other teachers - the Akimoto sisters. For the last two years, I have been studying with Dr. John Perry in Orange County, California.

Tell me about what it's been like to be in the public eye. You've experienced more public recognition than almost any pianist your age. What was it like to appear on the Ellen show?
I was eight years old. It was pretty exciting!

Was she nice to you when the cameras were off?
I didn't actually meet her when the cameras were off because she was really busy, but it was a really fun experience.

Was that the scariest thing you've ever done, or are concerts and competitions more nerve-wracking for you?
Competitions are the most nerve-wracking for me, because you're competing with other people.

What competitions have you done, and what countries have you performed in?
I've competed in a competition in Budapest, the Chopin International Competition, and a competition in Connecticut. I've done concerts in China, Germany, Poland, Italy, Latvia, Japan, Panama, and the United States.

What was your favorite country to perform in?
I really like all of the European countries I have performed in.

Who is your favorite composer?

Have you done any special performances that you'd like to tell us about?
I went to Japan and did benefit concerts for the tsunami relief. I was able to go into the elementary schools and play for all of the kids.

What are your career goals?
I'd like to be a really good pianist who can help people. I want to do the best I can in everything I do.

Do you want to teach? Have you ever taught any lessons before?
I might want to teach. I think it would be fun. One time I tried teaching my best friend's little brothers and sisters, but it only lasted for two minutes!

How do you stay motivated as a young pianist?
I just love it so much. It's kind of like eating and sleeping for me. It's something I want to do every day. I like it so I never get tired of it.

What advice would you give to other young pianists to help them stay motivated?
Find something you like about the piano, and just have fun! Piano is about helping people enjoy themselves and the music.

Thank you so much to Umi for a wonderful interview and for being such an inspiring young pianist! Below is a video of a compilation of some of her performances and interviews.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Giveaway!

One of the greatest musical experiences of my life was the opportunity to work with Sam Cardon on my self-titled album, "Josh Wright" in 2011. We spent many late nights at Libby Gardner Hall recording for hours to get everything just right. He wrote all of the orchestration for the album, which I feel was done with incredible taste and style. He is such an inspiring and humble individual, and I feel honored that I had the privilege to work with him. The album features many of my favorite pieces from the classical and sacred music genres. My main motivation with this album was to try to help others feel a sense of tranquility through the music presented. Even though it does have a few showpieces, including La Campanella by Franz Liszt, the overall feel of the CD is spiritual and peaceful. This month's giveaway features a free signed copy of this CD, along with a signed copy of my arrangement of Clair de Lune/How Great Thou Art which is the first track on the album. Thank you all for your wonderful support.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 1, 2013

July Giveaway Winner - Sang McCall!

Congratulations to Sang McCall for being the winner of July's Giveaway! I look forward to working with you in your free 45-minute online lesson through Skype. Thank you to all who entered. I will be posting my August giveaway soon. If any of you have ideas for future giveaways you'd like to see, please feel free to leave a comment with your idea. I appreciate all of your support.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Young Artist Feature - Elliot Wuu

This past month, Lindsey and I had the great pleasure of attending the Amalfi Coast Music Festival in Italy. My teacher, Dr. Logan Skelton, was innovative in creating the Fellows Program, an opportunity for the doctoral students at the University of Michigan to not only attend the festival, but to give masterclasses, write reviews for concerts, perform in historic venues, as well as teach lessons. For my masterclass, I had the privilege to work with one of the most outstanding young pianists I've ever heard - Elliot Wuu. He played the Rachmaninoff Prelude in D Major, Op.23 No.4, and I was amazed! His sense of touch and his maturity with phrasing was outstanding. Even though this prelude is a lyrical piece, it was still very technically sound, and in later concerts I heard his incredibly polished technical skill with more demanding pieces. I knew immediately after working with him that I wanted to feature him as this month's young artist on this blog. Below is a one of Elliot's performance videos, as well as an interview.


How did you get started playing the piano?
My older sister played piano before I did, and I went to all of her recitals, and heard her practice all day, so I decided I wanted to play as well.

At what age did you start playing?
I started playing when I was around 5, almost 6. I'm 13 now.

How much did you practice when you were 5 years old? How much do you practice now?
I started off probably doing around a half an hour to an hour per day. I now practice four to five hours per day.

Who have you studied with?
I studied with Jed Galant for about six years, and one year ago I switched to Dr. Yoshikazu Nagai's studio from the San Francisco Conservatory.

Have you competed before? Which competitions have you done?
I compete each year. I have been to New York for the Kaufman competition [he won first prize]. I've also competed in a few different competitions in California.

Have you played with an orchestra before?
I have never played with one before, but I will play with my first orchestra next season. It will be with the El Camino Youth Symphony.

How do you stay motivated to practice each day?
I watch a lot of pros on YouTube, and I just want to play like them.

Aside from watching the pros, what advice would you give to your peers who are taking piano lessons but struggling to stay motivated?
Well, practice makes perfect right? Don't you want your performance to be perfect?

Who is your favorite composer, and what works have you played by that composer?
Mozart is my favorite composer. I have studied the Twinkle Variations, as well as the C Major K330 sonata and the Concerto in A Major, K488.

Who is your favorite pianist?
Oooo, that's a hard one. Martha Argerich, Lang Lang, Murray Perahia...there's a lot!

Do your parents make you practice?
(Laughing) Yeah, they do...if I don't practice enough they make me practice more!

Do you have any dream schools that you'd like to attend one day?

Did either of your parents go there? What makes you want to attend Stanford?
No, neither of my parents went there. I just want to. Everyone wants to go to Stanford!

Why should we study music? What purpose does it play in our lives?
It's important to understand the history of music, but also to have the audience enjoy what they are listening to. I try to create a story when I perform, whether the composer gives me ideas or whether I make them up myself. This makes the music more convincing.

Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

I’ve been away all month and have thought a lot about a special post I wanted to write on the concept of worry. I’ve wanted to write this for quite some time, but didn’t feel like I’d do it justice; however, I’ve collected a lot of thoughts and wanted to offer each of you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned and present some very practical tools from people much smarter than I am that can help anyone overcome their individual fears and worries. This post is a bit lengthy, but I hope the concepts I present will be of value as I’ve already seen drastic improvement in my mentality after applying these practices over the past month.

As some of you may have seen, I recently came out with a crazy music video as a promotional tool for my new album, which features explosions of color from within a white baby grand piano. It was so much fun to make, and I was excited to release the video and create more awareness for my new album, My Favorite Things, a project I had slaved over amidst completing the first year of my doctorate. The producer of my previous album, a man I respect more than almost anyone, ended up not being able to produce this album, so I told the record label that Lindsey and I would co-produce it. I did all of the arranging myself, most of which was done between 10 p.m.-2 a.m. on school nights. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, each arrangement took me a long time to finish. We flew home for Christmas and Spring break, and were in the studio all day every day recording. Two months later, I was in a bit of a bind, as we released the album during my finals week at Michigan (one week before Mother’s Day). I made sure to finish all of my classes early, make the 25 hour drive back to Utah, and perform the next day in front of 15,000 ladies at BYU Women’s Conference. It was a whirlwind of events!

Because everything had stacked up so heavily, we decided to wait to do a music video until June, and we released it in mid-July. I knew it was going to get all sorts of feedback, but I was pretty astounded at the incredible amount of hatred and negativity it received. Of course, the video is pretty controversial, with me playing Chopin on a piano that is breaking down through exploding paint and chalk-bombs, but it certainly wasn’t meant to be a serious portrayal of my feelings toward classical music, but rather a fun and creative new take on color in music, and a way to get people excited about the album. I received email after email from people telling me that I was “selling-out”, that I was making a mockery of classical music, that I had lost all sophistication for my art, and that I was an embarrassment to music. Even people I greatly respected and who had been very positive influences in my musical endeavors emailed me, saying these types of things. This was mild compared to everything people were saying on the actual video on YouTube. People would actually take the time to positively rank every negative comment so many times that it would appear at the top of the comments, and negatively rank every positive comment so many times that it was marked as spam and removed. Why would people invest so much time to bring down a young classical musician? I find it laughable that people would actually care so much and be so dedicated to try to discourage me that they would invest their “precious” time to do these things.

Some of you may be thinking, “If Josh really didn’t care, why would he be writing a blog post about this?” I admit, things can be hurtful initially, but when put in perspective, they are completely and utterly ridiculous and quite pathetic. Everyone experiences this kind of stuff at some point or another in his or her life. Human beings can be cruel for a variety of reasons, generally as a result of low self-esteem, a bad childhood, a closed mind (which many people defend as “proper,” “correct” or “the only way of doing things”), or a lack of personal accomplishment. Still, how can one overcome negativity and cruelty and get on with it?

I’ve been really blessed in my life to have great parents, amazing siblings, and most of all a truly magnificent wife who all consistently help me in this bizarre career as a musician that carries almost no certainty or guarantees whatsoever. I personally hate routine, so there are numerous aspects of being a musician that I love. However, I believe almost all musicians have felt the fear of uncertainty at some point or another. “When will my next gig be? Will my studio flourish or fail? Will I be able to provide for my family, save for the future, and survive?” You can make an amazing living as a musician, or a horrible one. The fact that people are so scared to break out of the box of classical music, doing anything out of the ordinary whatsoever, leads many to quit music altogether, because the reality is that there are millions that would like to be a classical concert artist, and only a handful that can actually make it. How can one battle this fear and get on with living in peace and have confidence for a bright future?

Even before the music video was released, I had started reading Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. I noticed that in my day-to-day routine, I was frequently worrying about the future and what I actually wanted to do. To be honest, I LOVE what I’m currently doing – playing concerts, teaching awesome students, and dabbling with some cross-over work – but I didn’t know what I was going to do a year, two years, five years, or ten years from now. Would I be able to support my wife and future children with this career? What if a bunch of my students quit? What if I don’t get any more concerts? These were all pointless to be thinking about, but they would often plague my mind even though I feel that I’m a pretty confident individual. Where could I find the strength to banish these thoughts?

I want to share a few of the insights from Carnegie’s book that I’ve already seen making a big difference in my mentality and really, my overall happiness level. Everything has seemed to lighten up even in the past few weeks since I initially started reading it. These steps are not specific to musicians – they can be applied to anyone in any situation that might be causing anxiety. I hope that sharing these will help each of you as you battle your own fears and negative influences (these are in no particular order prescribed by the book…these are just some of my favorite aspects from the first few chapters):

1. Take one thing at a time in life. Imagine your life as a giant hourglass, with grains of sand always falling at a continuous and steady rate. No matter what you do, you cannot speed up or slow down time. Whether you have 10 or 100 tasks to do in a day, take a few minutes the night before to write out a plan to accomplish them in a timely manner, but when you are actually working on one of the tasks, only focus on that. Indeed, when Christ taught, “Take no thought for the morrow….,” I don’t think he was saying, “Don’t plan ahead” but rather to live in the moment. Don’t be thinking about task 2, 13, or 99 when you are on task one. Similarly, don’t be thinking about task one when you are on task 99. Stay focused on the present moment, and you will accomplish things more quickly and efficiently. Every thought takes a certain amount of energy, and you don’t want to exhaust your energy on things that are literally out of your control for that moment. Say to yourself, “I physically CANNOT do anything about my 5:00 p.m. task when it’s 4:30 p.m. so I choose not to think about it until 5:00 p.m. comes.”

2. Live in day-tight compartments. Similar to step one, we must realize that life presents a constant crossroads in time. We have a massive past behind us, and a vast future lying ahead. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.” If you’re trying to get out of debt and you owe $100,000 to the bank, don’t worry about the entire $100,000 each day. Instead, ask, “How much can I put toward that $100,000 today? Can I put $10, $50, $100, $1000 towards that debt, today?” No matter how much you want that $100,000 erased, you can’t simply will it to be gone today. You can will yourself to work hard that day and have the discipline to put away a specific amount of money rather than be discouraged about the $100,000 and go to the mall for some “shopping therapy,” basically shooting yourself in the foot and making the goal become even harder. This will cause even more depression the next day.

3. Start off with the worst-case scenario, and build off of that. Let’s pretend that you don’t know whether to take a job in Texas, and you’re living in California. All of your family lives in California, you like it there, but you desperately need the money and Texas is the only place left to go. A lot of people would say, “No brainer. Take the job. Who cares if your family is in California. You need the money.” Others would say, “Forget the money, stay in California and keep job-hunting.” Ultimately, you decide you’ll go to Texas, but what then? What if the job is horrible? What if you hate the community where you live? What if it’s nothing you imagined it would be? Step back and ask yourself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen?” You aren’t going to die, or go to jail for taking the job. You aren’t going to be a concentration camp victim if you take the job. They won’t torture you. The worst thing that could happen is that you hate the job, hate your community, hate everything about it, and choose to quit and move back to California. Once you accept the worst-case scenario, which is not likely to happen in most cases, everything will be easier from that point. We really can choose to make a situation positive or negative, but if you look at the most horrible possibility and can accept that if it does indeed happen, almost all worry and fear will be immediately erased.

4. Have gratitude dominate your life. I served a two-year church mission for my church, and it was extremely tough. Days were filled with rejection – after all, who wants to talk to those annoying Mormon boys, all of them being named “Elder” and who are just too happy for their own good? I may not have been the typical “happy-go-lucky” type of guy, but I really did learn to love people amidst all of the tough aspects of the mission. I didn’t get to practice piano much and there was a set routine every day for the entire two years. Upon returning home, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life. I got to see all of the people I loved most – my family, Lindsey, friends – and I could wake up every day and practice the piano as long as I wanted to. I loved going back to school and doing things I had been unable to do on my mission. I noticed I was grateful for everything in life that I had taken for granted before. I wasn’t thinking of what I didn’t have, but rather what I could do each day. Since then, I’ve gradually noticed myself losing this perspective, and I have to constantly remind myself to be grateful each day for the incredible life I do have, that it could all be taken from me in a moment, and I need to live life to the fullest.

5. Finally, something that Carnegie mentions in his book is the fact that every day presents a new life. As the infamous Invictus states, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” We do choose our own course and our level of happiness. While various situations present themselves and we may not have control over the situation, we do have control over how we act in those situations. When faced with opposition, we can welcome it with open arms, realizing that success alone can bring about a false sense of security and can weaken us as individuals if we allow it to. As we face opposition with strength, even when it seems to pile up at particular moments, we should ultimately welcome it, for in doing so it causes us to think and refine our philosophies on life.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

July Giveaway! Free Online Piano Lesson Through Skype With Josh Wright

I had such an overwhelmingly supportive response last month to the giveaway that I just wanted to start  off this post by thanking all of those who entered. I cannot express my gratitude for you and your support of my career. Being a musician has always been my dream, and it is amazing to me that I am able to make a living doing what I love. Thank you for helping to make my dream a reality.

About a year ago, I decided that I would be attending the University of Michigan in pursuit of my doctorate degree. I had about twenty piano students in Utah, and I was devastated at the thought of having to let all of them go because I genuinely loved teaching all of them, and they were all accomplishing such great things. I looked into teaching online through Skype. I'd heard of several other piano teachers doing this, so I started advertising online lessons at the end of my YouTube videos. Someone emailed me a few days later to inquire about lessons, and I got my first online piano student! It took me a couple of lessons to adjust to this new style of teaching - things were basically the same, except I wasn't in the room with the student, couldn't point to their music, etc. I decided to try to turn these roadblocks into advantages, and sure enough, they did. My teaching style was strengthened, for rather than pointing to things on the piano, or moving my students' hands to the correct position, I had to explain concepts with absolute precision so that the student would be able to understand quickly and efficiently. It was a challenge, but I got used to it. My students also grew from the experience. They now wrote in all of their counting in the music, all of the expression marks that I would dictate to them, and overall they became more independent musicians. I could still demonstrate, zoom in on my fingers, and show them exactly what they needed to do, but the "distance" the computer created made them become better pianists through challenging them to take charge more, and make no excuses. I am so dang proud of all of my students, and I was definitely bragging them up this last week to my family and friends when Luke Romney - age 11 - won 2nd prize in the Junior division of the University of Utah International Keyboard Competition, and Josh Whisenant - age 15 - won 1st prize in the Senior division of the same international competition. What a privilege it is to be able to teach students of all ages, and now all countries using this amazing technology. I've enjoyed teaching students from 4 continents and many different countries. Maybe one day I'll be teaching students from all 7 continents (although I don't know how much demand there will be for Skype lessons in Antarctica)!

This month, I would like to celebrate my students' successes by giving away a free 45-minute Skype lesson for you, or someone you know that would like to take an online piano lesson. No musical experience is required - all you need is a computer with a webcam, and Skype installed on your computer (it works with both Mac and PC computers). Once the winner is announced, we will set a time to meet (often across time zones!) and connect for a virtual lesson. Everyone, no matter what your age, is welcome to enter. Just a precaution - any students under the age of 5 may have a very difficult time with this. Ideally, I would prefer to teach a student who is 8 years of age or older, as younger children do better with the physical aspect of lessons. Just take a look below and see all of the various ways you can enter. Thank you all so much for your support.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

June Giveaway Winner - Sean Rosqvist!

Congratulations to Sean Rosqvist on being the winner of my first giveaway ever! I'll be mailing you the signed copy of my new CD, My Favorite Things, tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it!

I'll be posting July's giveaway shortly. Thank you all so much for your support!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Inner Peas

Lindsey and I were at Trader Joe's the other day, and she taught me yet another valuable life lesson. She saw these "Inner Peas" and said she had seen a comment by her friend on Facebook that they were really good. Ringing up at a steep $1.49, we decided we'd take the dive and give them a try. However, when we got to the cash register, a really enthusiastic Chinese cashier warned us, telling us how gross they were. She had even purchased a bag herself, and was giving out samples to customers about to buy them to show them what a terrible decision they were making. Not too sure how Trader Joe's management would feel about this, but hey, we were appreciative, and we told her not to ring up the bag. She set it aside and we kept talking. She was also more than excited to give us some free samples of real fruit juice lollipops. I'd rate my check-out experience a solid 10/10.

When we got out to the car, we were pulling some stuff out of our bag to snack on, and noticed that she had accidentally put in the bag of Inner Peas, even though she hadn't charged us for it. I didn't think much of it, considering it was only a little over a dollar. However, Lindsey asked, "Don't you think we should take it back?" We were already on the road, and were headed to my sister's dance performance. After a once-a-day phone call from my mom for the last 30 days, telling us that yes, the dance concert WAS indeed on June 18th, and yes, we DID need to arrive at least an hour early, I thought it was probably more important to get to the concert than worry about the disgusting dollar snack. She said, "Let's just go back really quick...we aren't too far away." So, we turned the car around and she took the bag back in. 

She came back out about a minute later, and said, "Geez, I wasn't expecting that. I walked back in and gave the manager the bag back, saying we hadn't been charged for it, and his face immediately lit up. "Thank you so much! Wow! I am amazed that you would bring this back. These are so inexpensive, so I wouldn't ever expect that. That just made my day.""

Did the $1.49 store savings make the manager's day? Probably not, considering we could have stolen 10 bags and it wouldn't have affected his paycheck. However, it was the simple and honest act, and not wanting any recognition or praise for it, that made his day. It was the fact that the deed was so minuscule, so tiny and seemingly unnecessary, but nevertheless important enough to someone to do the right thing....that's what made his day. I sat there thinking about it, and thought of how this could affect all of the people in his realm of influence. If he went to the gas station that night and they undercharged him, and he noticed it once he was out in his car, I'm almost positive he would have gone back, not because he would normally do so (well, maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't), but because of this small act. He would have at least thought twice about it, and probably gone with the more honest way.

Every day we are faced with decisions that question our honesty and integrity. Most of these deeds probably go unnoticed, but surely there are people who do notice without our knowledge of it. If we are constantly trying to do the right thing, not for recognition or praise, but just because it's the right thing to do, it very well may have a chain effect that spreads far beyond our own realm of influence. The chain reaction, or the "pay it forward" mentality, may seem silly and insignificant to most, but my wife's simple and honest decision made me think twice about where I stood on the integrity scale, and made me resolve to go that extra mile, even when it seems unnecessary or inconvenient.

Lindsey is cool.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Work Hard, Play Harder

Hopefully one day I'll tee it up at Augusta. Being a pianist, I probably have a better chance than a lot of aspiring golfers because even though classical musicians usually aren't rich, our target audience members are often quite wealthy. In 2011, I went to a piano festival in the Hamptons. We lived there for one month, wining (minus the wine for Lindsey and I, the only Mormons at the festival, which everyone found fascinating, and my hundreds of questions about which wines were best were only outnumbered by their thousands of questions regarding Mormonism) and dining with the ultra rich. For the concert programs, they requested biographies, and they wanted to include something out of the ordinary. In high school, I played on the golf team, and since I was at a 1A school, you could simply sign up and be on the golf team. My friend, Robert, was a master golfer, and would usually shoot in the 60's, and if he was having a really rough day, he would shoot in the 70's. I came in as the #2 player, shooting such stellar scores as 82 or 84 on a good day, with the #3 guy shooting in the 90's, and finally our #4 guy shooting in the low 100's. Needless to say, Robert carried us to our feeble second place finish at the State Championship (can you really call it a championship at that point?), with the top 4 players adding up their total scores. Thank heavens the other teams were just as horrible as we were. By some fluke, I made the All-State Golf Team (I was the second best player in a truly horrible division - what an honor!). At the All-State Golf Banquet, I was surrounded by scratch golfers, with my personal best round of the season being a dazzling 82. I proudly accepted this award, realizing that it would probably be the only golf award I would ever receive. A few of my peer's parents caught wind of this, and threw a fit. "How did he make the All-State Golf Team!? My son is so much better." My mom and I would laugh at this - yes, as a matter of fact, your kid IS better! I just went to a school that was in the most pathetic division ever for golf!

So, back the Hamptons, I listed in my biography that I was on the All-State Golf Team. One night, we were at an extremely ritzy "Tennis and Bath" club, or something like that (just think of things rich people like, and that will probably be the right title), and we played a concert outside for them on a perfectly cut lawn, surrounded by perfectly cut hedges, set against a backdrop of the most perfectly clean and serene beach (white sands against bluish-black water). Afterwards, we enjoyed a banquet of all you could eat lobster, crab, salmon, prime rib, steak, and whatever else you could think of. A guy came up to me and said, "Are you the golfer?" Why, yes I am! I haven't played more than a few times in the last 6 years, and 6 years ago when I played a lot I sucked, but, yes, I am the golfer. We talked for awhile, and he asked me, "Do you want to come play at Shinnecock Hills with me next week? I'm a member there. It's the number 3 course in America, only under Augusta and one other course, and they're holding the U.S. Open there in a few years." I was ecstatic, and naively texted my friend Robert to ask him how the course was. "Are you crazy? I've never played there!" I think everyone enjoyed my 4-putts that day. By some crazy miracle, I eagled from about 90 yards out on a par 4, so it wasn't a complete waste.

And thus, from this experience, I have high hopes that one day, some rich donor will host a dinner that I'll perform at, with either a Master's champion in attendance that will love my playing SO much that he'll invite me to go tee it up with him, or a really nice old guy that will ask me to be his golf buddy for the day. Augusta is the Steinway and Sons of golf courses, unmatched by any others according to most people.

I talk about all of this because this summer, I've reignited my old passion for golf. Sure, my brothers and I have played a handful of times over the last few years, and shot really good scores if you don't count our numerous mulligans (we've probably lost more balls than we've found in the bushes, searching for spare golf balls frantically out of necessity rather than at our leisure), but this summer, I've actually devoted some time a few times each week to going to the driving range and putting greens and really practice. It's been awesome that my wife has joined me almost every time we've gone, and she's starting to get into it as well. I've shot some pretty decent scores, and my game is feeling as sharp as it did in high school.

A lot of times, as a musician, I can get into a rut. I think, "One more concerto, one more sonata, one more etude, one more nocturne." At the end of the day, who really cares how big my repertoire is? I love what I do, but sometimes, it can become a little stale. It's not that the music itself becomes monotonous or boring, but rather the process and routine can become mind-numbing if one is not careful. Ever since I started golfing this summer, I've been happier, not because I'm aspiring to be a pro golfer, but because I have a healthy and competitive distraction that challenges me in a completely different way. I see many correlations between golf and piano, the most obvious being that they are both extremely mentally demanding, require hours of work, and ultimately give you no guarantee of success. However, both have the sweetest and most amazing reward when executed well. The perfect expression and execution of a piece is very similar to sinking a birdie putt after a monster drive straight down the fairway, followed by a 5-feet-from-the-pin approach shot and an easy make for the -1.

I find that a lot of people say, "When I retire...." To be honest, I never want to retire. I love what I do so much that I'll never quit doing it. However, there are days when I question this, and on those days, all I need is something like golf to round things out in my mind, to give me a mental release elsewhere that piano just isn't doing for me. I find myself more rejuvenated than ever about music when I step off of the golf course having just played 9 or 18 holes, or just going to the driving range to practice and clear my head. I hate clichés, but I do have to say that I agree with the one that says, "Work hard, play hard." However, I would change it to be "Work hard, play harder." When you have this mentality, I think the roles can be reversed - work can become play, and play can become work. When work becomes play, you are SO happy doing what you're doing, and when play becomes work, you have a healthy and competitive challenge to make yourself grow and succeed in the things you love doing most.

Thank you all so much for your support. Just a quick reminder that I'll be doing a few upcoming concerts in Utah this month. All of my concerts are listed on my website at http://joshwrightpiano.com/events. Also, this month's giveaway - a signed copy of my new album My Favorite Things - is coming to an end in a little over a week. If you'd like to enter to win, just scroll down and see all of the options on how to enter. Have a great week!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Young Artist Feature - Caleb Spjute

I've decided to feature a young artist each month on this blog. The young artist that immediately came to mind for my first post is a young pianist that has incredible promise and potential, and has already accomplished a great deal for his age - Caleb Spjute. Lindsey and I originally saw Caleb at the SummerArts Piano Competition at the University of Utah a few years back, and before they announced any of the awards, he was already our favorite, because he was just such a stud - he couldn't have been more than about 4 feet tall, but he was decked out in a gray pinstripe three-piece suit, pink shirt, and skinny tie...by far the best dressed artist at the entire competition. Lindsey turned to me and said, "We need to have you dress like that kid!" So, needless to say, we went out and bought a vest just like Caleb's and when I told Caleb he was the inspiration behind the vest, he wore it to every event he came to where I would be performing so we could match haha. He is awesome! (By the way, he had to step forward and accept every first prize award in his age category - 1st prize in performance, concerto, sight-reading, quick-study, and everything else he entered...incredibly talented!)

Here is a short biography of Caleb:

Caleb Spjute was born with a love of music. At age 4, he began reading through old piano books and teaching himself how to play. Within a couple of months, Caleb had passed through Level 4 method books and was playing anything he could get his hands on. Caleb particularly loved Tchaikovsky, and at age 5 was asked to play the “Overture” at his school’s performance of the Nutcracker. From the time he began playing piano, Caleb has told everyone his dream; “I want to be a piano player when I grow up.” At 6 1/2, Caleb began formal piano lessons at the University of Utah with Dr. Vedrana Subotic. In a short time, Caleb began competing in piano competitions and performing all across Utah. At 7, Caleb won the University of Utah’s SummerArts piano solo competition and won the “Iron Man” award for best all around. At age 8, he won his first piano concerto competition in Park City, and again the following year. At 9 years old, Caleb made his debut appearance playing a piano concerto with live orchestra. Now 10 years old, Caleb recently performed a full 3 movement concerto with live orchestra and won an Honorable Mention from the Utah Symphony Youth Guild Competition.

Caleb also loves to write music. Each year he wins his school’s musical composition competition, often going on to Region and State levels. He loves to play for care centers and nursing homes. He often accompanies his older brother who plays guitar and a younger sister who plays violin.
Caleb has a special love for playing in church. He loves to find different arrangements of hymns to play. This past year he created a web series called "Sundays @ 6" where he plays a different hymn arrangement every week. He is currently on week 46.

When not playing piano, Caleb has a great love for maps, building roads with his toy cars, reading, and writing. He has recently began playing the ukulele. He continues to study piano and work toward his goals of becoming a professional pianist and basically just sharing his love of music with others. He says, "I love it when I play the piano because it makes people happy, and that makes me happy."
As you can all see, this kid is amazingly accomplished, creative, and innovative. I decided to do a mini interview with him.
How has studying music changed your life?
Piano has made a difference in my life because it makes me happy and makes other people happy. It has given me goals to work for like learning harder pieces, memorizing longer songs, competing in piano competitions, playing with a live orchestra, and someday becoming a professional concert pianist.
I can’t imagine my life without playing the piano. I think it would be very boring. I like to be able to hear a song on the radio or somewhere and know I can play it myself.
I like to play with other people who play other instruments or sing.
I like most to play in front of other people to be entertaining and make them happy.
What advice would you give other young musicians wanting to study music?
If I could tell one thing to other young musicians that could help them in their studies, it would be to never give up. Never quit even if it looks like you can’t do it at first. Keep trying.
My teacher has taught me that the best way to practice is slow practice with a metronome. Even though it is hard, I know it makes me better if I do it.
Do you like to practice the piano?
Practicing the piano is hard especially when it might be boring things like scales and finger exercises, but I know it will help me be a better piano player.
I think other kids should learn to play the piano because there are so many songs that you can find music to. You can play all sorts of music like classical, jazz, new-age, rock, pop, and more on the piano and make it sound good.
And, an extra bonus---he says: Playing the piano has introduced me to lots of other great pianists like Marvin Goldstein, Jon Schmidt, Paul Cardall, and more. It makes me happy when composers and pianists find my videos online and leave nice comments to me! I have made many friends over the internet such as Jarrod Radnich, Josh Wright, Aaron Waite, Chas Hathaway, Carolyne M. Taylor, and Paul Cardall. 
Here is a link to a video of one of Caleb's performances:
Also, if you'd like to connect with Caleb online through his blog, Sundays at 6 series, or become a fan on Facebook, here are the links to do that:
Facebook Fan Page: www.facebook.com/calebspjute
Keep up the great work Caleb! Thank you for being this month's featured young artist!
If any of you would like a signed copy of my new album, My Favorite Things, just scroll down 2 posts and find all of the various ways you can enter this month's giveaway. Thank you all so much for your support!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Stories of World War II have always been a great source of inspiration for me in my performing, both for the pain and extreme tragedy endured by millions of Jews, as well as their undying perseverance through the most intense trials a human being could possibly face. Their determination and positive outlook through the total debasing of their humanity gives hope to all. It is a beacon of light for us in our daily tests that challenge us to become better human beings. On my last album, I arranged a piece that combines Rachmaninoff's Elegie, one of the most heart-breaking works in the entire piano repertoire, along with the theme from Schindler's List. Before I play this at each concert, I have been telling a particularly touching story that has changed my life, and I'd like to relay it to each of you here. It is one of the most powerful examples of forgiveness that I've ever come across, and motivates me to be a better and more loving human being.

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. 

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! 

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and I could not forgive. My Sister had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. 

Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

-Corrie Ten Boom

As a token of thanks for your support of this blog, I am organizing monthly giveaways for my readers. This month's giveaway features my new album that has the Elegie/Schindler's List piece on it. Scroll down if you'd like to enter :)

Friday, May 31, 2013

My first giveaway! Signed copy of my new album "My Favorite Things"

I recently had the amazing (and very stressful!) opportunity to record another album whilst completing the first year of my doctoral program at the University of Michigan. Lindsey and I flew home to Utah for Christmas break and spring break, and were in the studio nearly every day for those "breaks." The album title, My Favorite Things reflects the content of the album, combining my favorite works from both the popular realm and the classical realm, including movie themes from Harry Potter, The Sound of Music, Les Miserables, Schindler's List, The Wizard of Oz, as well as songs by Led Zeppelin and Owl City. incredible wife, Lindsey, acted as producer, and sat in the studio for the many hours we were recording, intently listening and helping me tweak every last detail to get each track just right. To celebrate the release of the new album, I'm doing a giveaway of a signed CD. As you will see, this giveaway will be run through Rafflecopter, and there are several options you can choose from to enter (or do several of them for extra entries!). This will run for the month of June, and the winner will be announced on July 1st. I'll be sending out a monthly newsletter to my email list announcing each month's winner (future giveaways will feature other albums, free online Skype piano lessons, and other fun merchandise giveaways). Go ahead and leave a comment below for your first entry!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Living Like Zach

This is a beautiful story about someone who cares more about others than himself.

"You can be with Zach, and just be sitting there with him, and feel better. He's got...I don't know how to describe it...he's got this aura about him," his dad comments in the video.

"What makes you happy is seeing someone else smile because you put it there," Zach said.

One thing that I see a lot of in society is people cutting others down. I think for the most part, human beings are innately good, that each of us has a light within us that makes us want to succeed, and makes us want to help others. However, with the stresses of life piling upon us, we must be extremely careful, for our inner light's brightness is in serious danger of being lessened and dimmed. If we ignore this problem long enough, the light can be completely extinguished and we become cold and heartless human beings, with false motives and mirages of goodness that are inwardly evil and selfish.

Being in the career I've chosen, I see an incredible amount of superfluous and cunning "goals" that pianists set for themselves. I am constantly talking about these things with my wife, and how fame is one of the most deceiving vices a human being can encounter. Growing up, I always dreamed of being a famous concert pianist, performing in cities across the world, getting to travel and see the most beautiful things this planet has to offer. I let it become so ingrained in me that it defined who I was. Everything I did was the for the advancement of my career, and I cared little about anything else. My friends from school or in the neighborhood would ask if I could come and play soccer or basketball or go golfing, and I was actually happy to tell them that I couldn't because I was practicing. I remember quitting competitive soccer at age thirteen and it was one of the greatest days of my life. Sure, I always enjoyed playing sports, and I got really into skiing and golf in high school, but more often than not I would cancel anything and everything for piano. I would rarely attend anything my siblings would do - soccer games, football games, dance recitals, and a bunch of other cool stuff - because I had a crazy amount of hours I had to practice if I was ever going to reach this goal. I would always tell myself, "Piano comes before everything except God."

One of the greatest blessings came when I met my wife, Lindsey. We started dating when I was 17, and ended up dating (minus a two-year church mission) until we got married when I was 22.  We wrote each other the whole time I was on that mission, and being away from her was even harder than being away from piano. She has taught me more about perspective and what is really important in life than anyone else. She teaches me daily that self-definition is not about how big my repertoire is, how many competitions I've won, how many CDs I've produced, or any of that kind of stuff. Ultimately, self-definition is about how you affect others and bless their lives through your endeavors. I watch my colleagues enter competition, after competition, after competition, just knowing that if they can win one of them that their careers will be set, only to find that the life of a concert pianist continues to be a tough and endless road of work and dedication. Many of them have burned out and quit, and other push on tirelessly, allowing practicing to devour their entire existence. While I have respect for their passion and work ethic, I pity the fact that many of them are missing out on life and the many beautiful experiences that they could have if they kept things in perspective and balance.

Like Zach, you are remembered for who you are, much more than your list of accomplishments. One of the great heroes of piano is Van Cliburn, who recently passed away. While his winning of the Tchaikovsky competition was monumental, I noticed that everyone who was mourning the loss of this wonderful person were saying things about who he was rather than listing his many pianistic accomplishments. They commented on what kind of being he was, on the kindness and character he exuded from his charismatic and loving personality. We can all learn a great deal from people like these. It is one of the most elegant truths that when we do what we can to assist and glorify others, we receive the greater reward.